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What happened to all the ducks we expected?

If you are like me, you are wondering where are all the ducks that the experts say that we have, or should have? After all, we were told that habitat conditions were good across most of the prairies in Canada and the United States, and I do not doubt that they were.

That, according to the experts, led to increased or stable populations for most duck species, with the exceptions being American widgeon (down 2 percent) and scaup (4 percent). The only bird I see increasing is the snow goose.

So far, this season has been like the last five, if one talks in generalities. Yes, some are having a good year, but most of us are not. It has been this way for five years now, although I had a better than average year for the 2005-06 season.

The old-timers used to say that the “ceiling volume” — meaning the number of ducks in the air — just wasn't there, and, if I may say so, the ceiling volume just isn't there this year or, for that matter, the last four or five years.

When you see things like a river flooding out and the food is on the table and the ducks don't show up, then you know something is wrong.

This year, the Cache River flooded out. In past years, you could load your boat and head for the Cache, because they would be there, but not this year.

Alternatively, if they had a major snowstorm, like the one that hit Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois a few weeks ago, you could count on some good duck hunting, but that didn't happen. There was a slight push of ducks, but not what your memory bank and eyes tell you it should have been.

Is it all just my imagination? Is it that my memory bank has gone haywire or my eyes are deceiving me? No, quite the contrary.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission conducted their aerial waterfowl surveys Dec. 4-7 in the northeast Arkansas River Valley. Habitat conditions were variable across the state, with excellent habitat conditions persisting in the northwest and northeast survey regions.

Abundance of flooded habitat increased from the November survey in the east central region, but conditions remained dry. Habitat conditions remained below average in both the southeast and southwest regions.

The statewide total duck count was 333,294, which represents a 15 percent increase from last year's count of 289,598. Sounds good doesn't it?

Not if you know the mallard count was 173,510, which represents a 5 percent decrease from last December's count of 182,702. Nearly 70 percent of the mallards observed during the survey were counted in the northeast region, where quality habitat conditions existed.

To add salt to the wound, although the December 2006 survey totals are up from 2005 (a year that most hunters in Arkansas consider one of their worse years ever), they remain low when compared to the long-term (1985-2006) December survey average of 841,628.

Need more salt on that wound?

Like total duck numbers, the mallard count of 173,510, despite two strong cold fronts prior to this survey, remains well below the long-term average of 538,978.

To make matters worse, if that is possible, the snow goose count was 237,155, representing nearly 40 percent of our waterfowling population.

Nevertheless, look on the bright side — snow goose numbers in December were down from the count done in November (332,850). The November count almost equals the total duck count for December.

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